“Binge Culture”: The Only Thing Getting Us Through the Pandemic

How home streaming services like Netflix and HBO are helping us get through life in a pandemic


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Binge culture is becoming more popular in homes due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 left the world at a loss, but home streaming services have since revolutionized our day-to-day lives. Production companies and television networks are putting out more original works and new features, allowing us to indulge in the new “binge culture” that is getting everyone through this current crisis.

Since the pandemic started, almost a year ago now, home streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus have seen a rollercoaster of revenue falls and viewer increases/decreases. Hollywood shut down almost completely when COVID-19 hit the U.S., leaving many fans in the shadows of season finale cliffhangers for many more months. As Covid cases fluctuated throughout those months, many companies were able to get back up on their feet to exponentially produce content for their (literally) sick and lonely viewers.

Once back in action, Netflix in particular gained over 10 million subscribers throughout the months of April, May, and June in 2020 according to Vox. The reason for this substantial growth is only obvious, but includes new added features that aimed specifically to help viewers connect while maintaining social distance. “Netflix Party” was created in March of 2020 and allows up to 50 viewers to watch a show or movie synchronously. Similar to Zoom, it provides a chat for everyone participating to comment their thoughts on the film, converse with friends, and enjoy the company with a virtual twist.

Netflix Party offers a chat box to communicate with friends while you watch.

Andrew Yu, who traveled from the states back to his home in Korea, had to spend two weeks in quarantine upon his arrival to ensure the impossibility of the transfer of COVID-19 to another country. He benefitted from Netflix’s new party feature and was able to keep in touch with his friends here in America.

“I was initially worried that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy watching shows with my girlfriend while I was quarantining,” Yu describes. “I wouldn’t know what to do without the Netflix Party feature.”

Yu will stay in Korea until he completes his mandatory military service in approximately 2 years. He uses the feature even after quarantining, and plans to continue watching shows with his girlfriend while he is away.

“We use it on a daily basis and now I am able to enjoy all of my favorite shows with the person that is most important to me in life,” Yu says.

Yu has access to a Korean version of Netflix that includes a variety of shows not offered in the U.S. It is helping him refresh his memory of the Korean language, and is introducing his American girlfriend to the culture and language of Korea. Home streaming services like Netflix have the opportunity to connect people all over the world and to create a sense of unity in this pandemic.

The “Netflix Originals” category is pronounced with larger displays to catch the viewer’s eye.

More locally, these streaming services are making more and more original series to offer viewers more content. Shows like “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Bridgerton,” and “The Outer Banks” have been popular releases since the pandemic began. Friends and family now get together and discuss which shows they have been binging.

Patti Bentley, a school teacher in D.C., claims that her TV viewing habits have notably changed since Covid hit in March. She and her husband have found that their pandemic work schedules allow them to catch up on shows and movies that they were missing before the changes of the past year. She adds that home streaming services allow her to “just relax…not have commercial interruption.” In the current political climate, it is especially valuable to be able to escape somewhere far away from political ads and the hostile environment such things can create.

Bentley has subscribed to Netflix and Discovery Plus since the pandemic began. The sense of an escape from reality providing a safe haven. However, recent releases of popular shows like “The Resident” and “Chicago Med” include storylines surrounding the Pandemic. This not only hinders that escape from the world, it often forces fans to relive unpleasant experiences.

“It’s life right now so I think that it’s necessary…but I enjoy the balance of some that have incorporated [Covid] and some that haven’t so that you can kind of escape from it,” Bentley describes.

Netflix and Chill: time spent between couples to catch up on the latest Netflix shows.

The new climate of gathering with immediate family members at the end of a stressful day of virtual work/school to watch TV is familiarizing many with terminology for concepts that are all too relatable. “Netflix cheating” is the act of watching episodes ahead without your spouse/partner. Essentially the opposite of “Netflix and Chill,” which refers to the act of watching a show with your significant other.

While our TV viewing habits have crucially changed, for better or for worse, it is helping us all to survive isolation for as long as it takes to return to normal. The question remains: will our habits continue long term, or should we cherish this relaxation while we can?

TV usage has especially increased due to political and COVID-19 related tension.